‘Dream big’: Foster kids urged to never give up
KIDS who had a rough start in life should "dream big", no matter what blocks appear in their path, says Shoannah Eades.
Shoannah is no stranger to mental health challenges, having struggled through her teens.
The 22-year-old shares her story here for the first time, in the hope it will help others know they're not alone, and to give a "shout-out" to youth mental health organisation Headspace, which she said played a huge role in her recovery.
Shoannah left her biological parents' care when she was four years old.
She has warm memories of her childhood in foster care, but said as she entered her teens she struggled with her mental health, and felt isolated, excluded, and angry.
She had spent most of her childhood with one loving foster family, but left at 12 years old and through her teen years lived in several foster homes and in emergency housing.
"I went through foster family placements, and breakdowns," she said.
"I was very angry … I punched holes in walls. I had major issues."
It became increasingly hard for Shoannah to see her friends from "normal" families going about their lives.
"Seeing my friends with their parents, that care for them, and love them and look after them, and knowing my biological parents never did … it was like, OK … it didn't make me feel very good," she said.
She recalled seeing her friends "cheered on" by their parents at sports carnivals and other events.
"I was like, 'oh, OK, I've really got no-one'," she said.
"I look back and I think, what was I thinking?
"There were people around.
"I just didn't see that because I was so caught up in my own thoughts."
Her long-term foster parents had been "amazing" and she now thinks of them as mum and dad.
But that "took her a while" as she found it hard to trust others.
"They loved us completely," she said, referring to herself and her sibling, who was also in care.
"There's rules in everything when you're in care, though.
"Even just going to friends' places - we weren't allowed to go to friends' places because there had to be checks done first.
"We can't just go, oh hey, can I come over for a sleepover?
"It was all in case my (biological) mum saw or my dad, or family members."
She said finding youth mental health organisation Headspace when she was 16 years old was life-changing.
"At first I was like, how do I open up?"
"I'd been in and out of counselling sessions all my life.
"I closed off a lot at first but as I've gone more and more, I've opened up more."
She said the counsellors were truly "amazing", non-judgemental and kind people.
"You can go and speak to them, but they don't force you to talk about the difficult stuff straight away if you don't want to," she said.
She said over time she came to open up and felt "immediate relief" when she was able to talk openly about what she had been through.
"It's a process.
"They don't make you feel pressured.
"It was a big journey.
"But it's made me stronger, especially with my mental health."
Shoannah now plans to study to be a social worker, and wants to be a case worker and help children in foster care, particularly indigenous children, to "dream big".
She said dreaming big was one of the values her foster mum and dad taught her.
Despite her troubled teen years, Shoannah said she was now living independently but was very close to her foster mum and dad.
"They were always there, no matter what, and they still are there to this day," she said.
She cherished childhood memories with them, and laughed as she spoke about taking the family dogs to Stumer's Creek for a run.
"Most afternoons we'd do that - walk the dogs at Stumer's Creek in Coolum," she said.
"Sometimes it'd be mum, or dad.
"They're part of my life and will always be a part of my life."
She said children in Department of Child Safety's care sometimes felt defined by being "in care", or defined by the trauma they'd been through.
But she said they shouldn't feel that way.
"They need to know that they can be anything they want to be, and can do anything they want to do, no matter their circumstances," Shoannah said.
"Don't let people stop you from doing great things.
"You've got to believe in yourself.
"It's hard, it can get hard, but you've got to keep pushing."